So I’ve been reading this book.
There was a chunk of time last summer when I stumbled across it constantly, when its virtues were proclaimed from every mountaintop within my humble little circle. So when I found it on a bargain table around Christmastime I snatched it up and whispered, “Merry Christmas to me!”
I cracked its cover immediately, feasting on the wordy, poetic prose (my favorite), but after a few days it began gathering dust on my shelf.
No bother. I learned long ago not to question my literary impulses, but rather to succumb to them, as they subconsciously guide me exactly where I need to go. I was drawn to this book as a thirsty wayward traveler is drawn to a mountain spring, but when I lowered my hands to scoop up its water, I found that I no longer desired to drink.
So I allowed myself to travel onward, to find my refreshing in other sources, knowing that the roaring tides and lazy currents of my own intuitive impulses would someday lead me back to the mountain spring, back to the little babbling brook that whispered, There is something for you here.
I found my way back to that spring a few fateful weeks ago, and this time, when I knelt by its borders and lowered my hands and face to drink, I didn’t stop until my belly was full, until water was dripping from my face, my hands, my hair, its molecules rolling down and transforming every part of me. When I finally raised myself up to take a great, gasping breath, I found I had been drinking so long the entire landscape had changed, shadows and sounds and trails all shifted and re-routed into brand new pictures and paths, brand new avenues for unearthing and discovery.
Or was it I who had changed?
And even after such a long and thorough drink from such a pulsing, invigorating source of refreshment, I found that my thirst was far from quenched. On the contrary, I was thirstier than ever.
Isn’t that just the way of good books?
The first 150 pages or so slid down easily, their fluid phrases rolling effortlessly over my tongue as I delighted in their syntax, their structure, their word pictures and storytelling. But the last three chapters were not so easily digested, and I sputtered and gasped as I struggled to choke them down:
“I stood back and listened to desire. I took note of every single time I heard it, and it was all the time: ‘Not enough.’
“I remembered standing at the closet, grabbing the same shirt I always do but wanting for more – hail to the style. I imagined us at our next gathering. What will my clothes say about me? Who am I?
“I once hid the shoes I bought so Seth wouldn’t know. I let money carry the weight of guilt. I watched how my desire for beauty overpowered my guilt. Or I thought it would. I stood back for days and watched my efforts to heal myself with wanting…
“I unloaded the dishwasher and wanted dishes that matched. I wanted to get more of the good coffee and a better coffeemaker. I always wanted sugar. I wanted to taste sweet in my mouth all day long. I wanted to be healed.”
I had to lay the book aside several times just to come up for air, to process the words I was reading and allow myself to admit that, yes, I want for the same things, and perhaps the wanting is more than par for the course and more than first-world influence and more than “a woman thing” to poke fun at and feed and coddle and silently sweep under the rug.
Perhaps my wanting is symptomatic of a much larger problem, like a blinking, neon sign pointing to all my empty places.
Perhaps my wanting is indicative of holy desire terribly misplaced.
I am a lover of less, a newly minted organizational and “easy living” freak who delights in reaching into dark corners of drawers, shining flashlights under dusty beds and armoires, and cleaning out all the messy places of our home for the purpose of reducing, removing, streamlining, simplifying.
I tout the virtues of “less is more,” of simple living, of our communal return to a mindset that would have us giving our things away to create more space when it’s needed, rather than holding on and upgrading and creating more storage space for the stuff that’s choking the life out of us.
When it comes to my own closet I am a scathing hypocrite, one entirely unable (or unwilling?) to rest in contentment and satisfaction and streamlined, simplified peace. I tell myself I am building a foundation, that I am collecting “timeless, classic pieces” that will take me through years and seasons and changes and most definitely save us money in the long run. I tell myself that God created me with a love for beauty and aesthetics and that I am really just embracing His design as I lust after the next essential piece to add to my “foundation.” (Currently on the list for procurement: white Converse tennis shoes, black wedge sandals, and the perfect black leggings.)
“What consumes us? If out of the heart the mouth speaks, what do we talk about? My life is built on nothing less than what I buy and how I dress.”
I’ve convinced myself that a portion of my worth as a woman is found in my wardrobe, in the image of myself I present to the world when I’ve had the luxury of time and energy to shape that image into exactly what I want everyone else to see.
(The really ironic part is that my heart is so driven by this pressure to cultivate an image when, as a stay-at-home mom, I embrace the fact that my daily appearance is generally framed by yoga pants, tank tops, and running shoes. But then, misplaced desires don’t usually manifest themselves in common sense, do they?)
We’ve all heard the platitudes, the “Dress for Success” motivations that actually just foster within us feelings of inadequacy and insatiable desires for greater material gain. I buy right into the hype when I spend my evenings poring over Pinterest boards, filling online shopping carts “just for fun,” mentally imagining how great everyone would say I look in that dress, and actually believing that my life could be a little bit better if only I owned that pair of shoes.
And I am so embarrassed.
I am embarrassed that a beautiful book chock-full of such life-changing wisdom and vulnerability and insight could reveal the shocking truth that one of my greatest inadequacies is anchored in my love for the items in my closet.
I am embarrassed that my ravenous desire for identity has led to a ravenous hunger for more.
I am embarrassed that perhaps my subconscious delights in imagining an alternate life for myself, one where I actually shower and curl my hair every day, one where I actually get to wear all the pieces I lust over, one where I feel that, even after birthing two babies, I am still beautiful and trendy and relevant.
I am embarrassed that I, a lover of depth, have been disclosed as shallow.
The Lord has been dealing with me lately about my addictions (clothing, cultivating identity, coffee, Netflix, sugar, social media, etc. – can we just be honest and own up to the fact that most of us have many, many more than we’re willing to admit?) and He’s been asking me some excruciating questions:
Do you love this thing because I created you with a natural propensity to be attracted to it? Or do you love it because it brings you some sort of shallow fulfillment?
Does your love for this reveal a heart that is fully enthralled with Me? Or does it reveal a heart that is desperately searching for acceptance outside of Me?
Does this particular interest draw you closer to Me? Or does it lure your attentions away from My glory?
Does your love for this thing undergird the truth that your identity is found in Me and Me alone? Or is it the manifestation of your heart’s desperate cry for human affirmation and approval?
If this were to be taken away from you, would I be enough?
Perhaps most excruciating of all is when I can only shake my head and whisper through my tears, “I’m not sure.”
So I’ve been wearing this dress.
I’ve been wearing it for nine years and it has stretched with me through pregnancies and life changes and shifting landscapes, accompanied me to jobs and parties and summer dates and celebrations and funerals, even though, let’s be honest, it’s worn and outdated and not nearly nice enough for a funeral. But isn’t there just something especially soothing about the feel of familiar fabric on skin, the way our brains instantly relax and relish the comfort of broken-in, well-worn textiles? Isn’t there a small part of us that feels most like ourselves when we are wearing our favorite, years-old pieces, a part of us that feels most beautiful and brave and understood? They are tactile courage, these well-loved garments of ours, and we cocoon ourselves tightly within them when we need shielding from the harsh realities of a world fraught with pain.
There is an allure, a charm, an enchantment with new clothes, an invigorating rush of endorphins when we slip on an outfit and realize, I look good.
And yet the endorphins pale in comparison to the contentment and warmth that radiate from our faithful, familiar favorites.
Jesus, be my favorite…
The clothing is irrelevant. The money is irrelevant. The addiction itself is irrelevant. The crux of the matter is in the wanting, in the striving, in the misplaced desire. It’s in the desire to be known, to be heard, to be accepted, to be loved, to be cherished, to be filled, to be satiated, to be an image-bearer.
We were all created to reflect an Image.
We all crave identity, distinction, perhaps even singularity.
But we find it in all the wrong places.
And after lifetimes of climbing the wrong mountains, of chasing the wrong winds, of drinking from the wrong streams, all in misguided efforts to quench our gluttonous desires, we suddenly find ourselves realizing, “This isn’t the way… But I’m so far off-track I’m not sure I’ll ever find the trail again.”
This is my confession.
I have allowed my holy desire to become terribly misplaced, have attempted to fill up my empty places with things and thoughts and ideas that take up space but never satisfy. I have allowed myself to wander so far off-track that I’m not even sure how to find my way back again.
But when the grieving father cried out, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”, his plea was granted and his son was healed. (Mark 9:24)
And so I keep stumbling forward, keep whispering, “I want You to be enough; help me overcome my wayward desires!”
And I realize that maybe this place of total vulnerability is exactly where He wants me.
Maybe weakness is where holy desire is found.
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
Just give me Jesus
I love you every day,